Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hot Sauce Promise Kept!

Success! Promise kept. Video recorded. The first day of the long weekend is in the books, and I did what I set out to do, See, I had promised my friend Aaron when he said he would send me a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce from America I would take that bottle down to the Thai city of Sriracha (more commonly known as Siracha), find random Sirachans, give them samples of the sauce and get their reactions. I did that and accomplished my main goal for the day.
It's nice to set a goal and actually do it. There were lots of reasons not to do it. Aaron never asked me to do it, it was just something I spontaneously promised to do one late night on Facebook. He wouldn't have really cared if I'd blown it off. Second, I had no help. It is really hard to hold a sign that says 'Free Samples! American Sriracha sauce!” and then balance a plate full of spicy treats. There will be video soon, but as you'll see, I look in distress, socially awkward, as much as my subjects, for the most part, look the same. I scrapped the whole idea of the stationary camera and decided to hold THAT too. The local Srirachans were lucky they didn't get Sriracha sauce dumped in their laps when I approached them.

I think my idea is golden. Taking a product from the New World that has achieved a fanatical, cult-like following and bringing it back to its origins to see what the locals thing of it: Huy Fong Foods (the makers of Sriracha) should be paying me for this idea. Done right, the video could go as viral as the sauce is popular.

To do it 'right', I'd need a crew, some planning and an actual location. Today's video was off the seat of my pants, and although fulfilling my promise to Aaron, is nothing more that that. One day, I will return, video production crew, script and set up subjects on hand and will make this video right.

I say that, not yet having viewed the footage as I am still on the road. I'm typing this in a 400 Baht/night flophouse in Pattaya,

I am also happy to say that I accomplished another goal. I've now 'been to Thailand'. Pattaya is a wonderful town.
Tomorrow, off to Rayong!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve in Bangkok

I pretty much expected Christmas Eve to be no different that any of my other eves these last few months. Was very happy to get a query on Line from a co-worker, which I've just signed up for, asking, 'where's the party tonight?'

I was already planning to head to Pickadaily Square (not misspelled) on OnNut to check out the lights... record them on my erstwhile video camera... It was all that much better sharing it with friends:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sunday Morning Following My Nose

Accidental beauty. I continue to be surprised by how easy it is to find amazing sites here in Thailand just by walking out my door and following my nose. Maybe I'm lucky; maybe I have a knack for seeing the novelty and wonder in what others would find mundane. Not to toot my own horn or anything.

Look! A field! Isn't that cool?! Dogs! Bananas growing on the side of the road! Chickens! Trash! Wow!

Get Your Kicks, On Nut 66
I woke up this morning about 6 AM out of cigarettes. The Mom & Pop store on the ground floor of my condo building doesn't open until 7 AM, so I was on the bike to the end of the block to the 24 hr Family Mart.

You can't really see it in the picture, but this corner was the initial inspiration for the music video I made a couple months back: 'Get your Kicks (on Route Sukhumvit)'. This is where On Nut (sidestreet) 66 hits On Nut Road (On NOOT, rhymes with on route) itself.

It was a pleasantly cool morning. I had my camera phone with me. I decided to go on a Sunday Morning drive to see what I could see.

Bananas growing on the side of the road.
On Nut 66 is the main entrance into a part of Bangkok called, appropriately, On Nut 66 Village. Being on the outskirts of town a bit, there are still a lot of open areas in the Village, places where bananas grow on the side of the road.

We're in the city here, but On Nut 66 Village definitely has a bit of a rural feel to it. It's the only part of Bangkok I've been in where being a farang is really noticed. People stare at me as I drive by on the bike. I don't mind. I've motored through this area on a few other occasions, and it's a fascinating little chunk of what the rest of Thailand must be like, isolated in a little chunk of otherwise cosmopolitan Bangkok. It's a place where you can still see traditional Thai-style homes, as you do in the left part of the photo below. 

Traditional style Thai homes are raised up to deal with floods, which also gives you a nice place to park your Toyota.

الله أكبر

Like a lot of East Bangkok, it's somewhat of a Muslim neighborhood. There are more mosques than Buddhist temples.

The sun was just
starting to rise, and I heard roosters crowing from everywhere.

It's definitely Christmas time here in Bangkok. Every business has decorations up. Christmas music (the same tunes you hear in the USA) are playing over the muzak in the department stores. Entire sections of the grocery store are dedicated to decorations and gift baskets. They offer giftwrapping services. I don't know if Thailand has gotten the whole family-coming-together, love-thy-neighbor, be-nice-to-everyone spirit of Christmas, but they certainly have embraced the commercial side of the season.

Styro Claus
It was actually kind of cool then to find this styrofoam Santa deep in the village on a dead-end street. He's seen better days.

“Look, we've got this five-foot-tall Santa out back, I don't care what it looks like! It's going out front!”

I had no idea where I was going. I was just having fun being lost down a bunch of random streets, many of which were dead ends. I adopted a strategy of following other motorcyclists when picking which roads to go down, figuring they had to be going somewhere.

That strategy lead me here. 

Oh my. This is not a safe bridge. It looked sturdy enough, but to cross it, I had to drive over metal rails that were just a bit wider than my tires. One bad wobble and I'd risk crashing into the canal below.

Boy, am I glad I didn't decide to turn around at that point. I stumbled onto Nong Bon. 

I don't know what this sign says. It might read: no motorcyclists allowed. I drove on ahead anyways.

I'd seen this place on maps. It's big. Never really thought to go visit it because with the name “Nong Bon Water Defense Project”, it sounded like some boring percolation pond or something. No, it's a beautiful lake.

Made more beautiful by the sun rising behind it. 

People were out jogging and cycling, enjoying the cool morning air.

Truly breathtaking.

I noticed three or four canals leading into the lake. Bangkok is crisscrossed by canals (khlongs, as they're called here). Each tributary had sophisticated looking locks at its mouth. Yes, this is part of Bankok's flood defense system, so there were waterworks materials throughout, but it's also a spectacular place to see.

What a fortunate Sunday morning drive. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sports Day! The Odd Importance of Ceremony

“I don't understand the point of all this ceremony,” my fellow rookie teacher asked me as we stood at the gates of our school, watching the marching band leave campus with a lot of pre-fanfare (see, they have to leave the school before they can come marching back into it). Indeed, to the American eyes, there was an awful lot of plumage, costumes, banners and flags being furled about for what was not a national holiday, just something for our school alone. This seemed strange to him. Me, I got it. Ceremony is part of what brings us together as members of a community. It may not have a 'point' beyond that. It can be mildly entertaining, but so can a lot of things. Ceremony with all its trappings ensconces in individuals a feeling they are part of something bigger. This sense of community is good for the individual and good for the health of the group as a whole.

“C'mon, man! It's SPORTS!” I tried to convey my enthusiasm, hoping some might rub off. I went on to explain why I think ceremony is important as I stated above. To the more rational western mind, appealing to the sociological functionality of ceremony and sports might make it more understandable. A Thai person doesn't need this kind of rationalization. They embrace the ceremony simply because it's what they do. It doesn't need to have a 'point'.

Today was “Sports Day” at the high school where I teach. All classes were cancelled. This Friday was going to be all about playing sports and having fun. I had no idea what to expect from the actual events. I wasn't sure if I'd be asked to do anything or not. I got a stage-eye view of the opening ceremonies, to start. They were impressive. Like a mini-olympics or something.

There was supposed to be a futsal (a mini-soccer with only 5 on each side) between the foreign teachers (There's six of us: 3 Americans, an Ulsterman, one Filipino and a Chinese guy) and a select team from the Thai teachers (mind you, like most schools, the staff is mostly older women). Unfortunately, that match-up, what our longest-termed native English speaking teacher called our 'annual ritual humiliation', did not happen. Seems that this year, the thought was that Sports Day should be for the students. I did at least get in a few games of basketball, some ping pong and we put on a demonstration of hackey sack for the students. 

Definitely the highlight of the day was dance/cheerleading competition. I do work at an all-boys school, but even the straightest of students enjoyed watching or participating in the choreographed dance routines which make up the bulk of the video below. A couple teams had former students come back to help with choreography, and some of those were Thailand's infamous ladyboys. 

Anyhoots, the day accomplished what it was intended: it brought Patumkongka High School closer together. It gave the students and staff a feeling of being part of something bigger (although some of the foreign staff felt a bit miffed over the futsal match being cancelled). Ceremony is important, and we got a wonderful amount of it today.

Enjoy the video.

A couple production notes on the video:

Normally, I take a video like this and add background music, narration and fancy transitions to make it more interesting. This time, I decided not to because I think the best way to let you know what it was like to be there today was to present it in its raw form.

My regular video camera is in the shop.  The LCD screen broke.  The camera records, but I can't see what I'm recording.  They said when I brought it in (a week ago) that it will be 2 to 3 weekd for repair. All the somewhat crappy footage in this vid (and in the pics) were recorded on my new smartphone. 

Lastly, I am definitely getting my own ping pong paddle and will be back to battle the teenagers in the ping pong palace (which I didn't even know existed until today).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bangkok Temperatures Dropping into the Low 20's!

The sun is rising, and I'm on my motorbike enjoying an early morning ride. I notice something unusual: something I haven't felt in a long time, at least not without the assistance of climate control. I'm cold. I can feel it in my bones.

Many times here, I've felt 'not warm', but feeling cold is different. Cold is when you think, “should I have worn a jacket?”. Cold is uncomfortable.

Temperatures here in Bangkok during the early morning hours have been dipping into the low 20's! That would be Celsius. That's the low 70's for us Farenheiters. I don't even have to turn on the AC in the mornings. I just turn on the fan and open the balcony door. One of my co-workers, a young man from Northern Ireland whose been in Thailand for three years now, admitted whilst we talked in the staffroom that he woke up in the middle of the night and had to find his rarely-used blankets to cover himself. He was too cold. Now, if an Ulsterman feels cold, it's cold, even if he's been acclimated to tropical norms.

That morning I felt cold on the bike was the beginning of a wonderful day this last Thursday. I was heading off to my regular visit to the national Thai Institute of Dermatology to get my UV treatment for my psoriasis. I got there and the place was closed! Why? It was the King's Birthday, a major holiday here in Thailand. Yeah, sure, school was closed, but hospitals?

Anyways, I made the best of it. As long as I was in the heart of Bangkok on a cool morning, it was time to go motoring. I drove all over the town and enjoyed the rare feeling of being cool here. As it was a holiday, there was little to no traffic either, another rare occurrence here in my new hometown.

I got lots of questions for longtime Bangkokians. Has this last week been normal for BKK in December or are we experiencing a 'cold snap'? If the former, is this how it's going to be in January and February too? We're in the northern hemisphere, I can see that much by noticing how lately the sun isn't directly overhead, so I shouldn't be surprised that it's a bit cooler in December. 

Unusually cold or not, I'm loving it. Back on the bike for a long ride tomorrow. I'd promise you a video, but there's an issue. My camera is in the shop. The flip-out screen has stopped working. So, I'm planning a weekend adventure without thought as to what would make a good video. New for me.

I do have what I hope is an entertaining video to share from the most recent Seasons of the Ukulele Contest...


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...